On Christmas Day, the mega-movies suddenly crowded into our streaming services.
It was “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max, “Soul” on Disney+ and (two days earlier) George Clooney’s “The Midnight Sky” on Netflix. It was so crowded that we could almost overlook the other Christmas arrival – “Bridgerton,” an eight-part Netflix mini-series.
Still, “Bridgerton” shouldn’t be ignored. It’s part classy Jane Austen and part tawdry Harlequin novel; it’s part classic-style period piece, part revisionist … and all Shondaland.
Shonda Rhimes was the backbone of ABC, with a string of hourlong hits – smart dramas that only intermittently strayed into soap turf (“Scandal”). After signing her Netflix deal, her company (Shondaland) leaves only “Grey’s Anatomyt” and “Station 19” at ABC,
Now here’s her first scripted Netflix project, based on a series of books. Set in 1813 London, it focuses on the families of two matriarchs: Violet Bridgerton is widowed; Portia Featherstone might soon wish for widowhood.
It’s the social season now, when some of their daughters search for husbands. Yes, that’s an archaic and sexist process … something that a few of the women point out.
“Bridgerton” is like that, slyly slipping modern perspectives into a long-ago setting. It also adds Rhimes’ touch for diverse casting.
The mini-series makes only one reference to its quirk: It pretends that Queen Charlotte (in the final years of the then-insane King George) was Black, presiding over a court that neatly mixed the races.
That assumption is fine; like “Hamilton,” it simply lets us accept one detour and then proceed.
Harder to accept is the plot device that keeps driving a wedge between two characters. That one is extremely tenuous, hardly worth building a drama around.
If we forgive that, however, the rest is first-rate, including the lush filming and the fine cast.
There are few known stars here, except for Julie Andrews (voice only, as an all-knowing gosasip columnist) and Polly Walker as the troubled Baroness Featherington. But as usual, Rhimes has cast this beautifully. Phoebe Dynevor, as Daphne Bridgerton, has a richly expressibve face; Rege-Jean Page provides perfect counterpoint as the stately Duke of Hastings. Surrounded bu finery and emotion, they offer a rich piece of period drama.